Both Worthing and St Richard’s in Chichester are in the running to be designated as trauma units, meaning better facilities for treating people seriously injured in car crashes and other accidents.
However, only hospitals which are more than 45 minutes away from a trauma centre can apply for the trauma unit status – and Brighton already has one which could have an impact on Worthing’s chances.
The Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust has confirmed it has applied for both St Richard’s and Worthing to take on the new ranking as part of a national overhaul of major trauma care.
Phillip Barnes, the trust’s medical director, said: “There is a national plan to have a number of trauma centres which will serve a population of between two and three million each.
“They will be the places where you should go if you have very, very serious accidents and they will always be in larger, teaching-type centres.
“There are then a series of other units called trauma units to provide care for people who are more than 45 minutes from a trauma centre. You can be stabilised ready to be transferred on to the trauma centre.
“Hastings and Chichester are more than 45 minutes from the trauma centre so there is a larger reason for saying that there should be trauma units there.”
Trauma centres, which will house specialist units like brain surgery, vascular surgery and advanced orthopaedics, will be spread out throughout the UK. The status would mean extra capacity for dealing with broken bones or minor stabbing injuries.
But Dr Barnes allayed fears that the new status could affect the day-to-day running of the hospitals’ accident and emergency departments.
He added: “One of the medical colleges has made the unhelpful comment that if you are not a trauma unit, you wouldn’t be able to be a properly functioning A&E department.
“What we don’t want is a situation where we are unable to maintain our A&Es. We are committed to making sure that our local population have adequate cover,”
Marianne Griffiths, the board’s chief executive, confirmed the trust had put in a bid for both Worthing and Chichester to become trauma units, but said it was not yet certain whether they would meet the criteria.
“We don’t want even a whiff of a downgrading decision to happen,” she said.
The nearest trauma centres will be in Brighton and Southampton from 2012; hospitals at Portsmouth and Redhill have also applied to become trauma units.